Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Trinidad & Asa Wright - the 1st full day

Pete Dunne, Bill Thompson, III, & Kenn Kaufman (from L) @ Asa Wright, Trinidad
After soaking up some of the veranda scenery and fueling up with a wonderful breakfast. We geared up and hit the Asa Wright trails! While the advance team intently scoured the trees for bird activity others were supplementing their breakfasts with "juicy, juicy mangos!"
Kim Kaufman & Julie Zickefoose can't resist nature's bounty!
Moving away from the veranda and its feeders, the bird diversity changes rapidly, and we immediately began seeing Bay-headed Tanagers mixing with Blue-gray Tanagers in mixed flocks. These also held Golden-fronted Greenlets which sang like miniature Red-eyed Vireos. I couldn't believe how alike these birds sounded. especially considering how much smaller they were.
Bay-headed Tanager digiscoped @ Asa Wright Nature Centre, July 2009

As I pointed out earlier, few (if any) eco-lodges have been in the biz longer than Asa Wright and we were totally amazed at the accurate signage. When we saw the sign reading "Golden-headed Manakins", we looked up and saw Golden-headed Manakins. Granted, they have had >40 years to get their signage just right, and since it was breeding season the birds are likely behaving more predictably, but still....

Golden-hooded Manakin, digiscoped with Leica D-Lux 4 camera through APO Televid scope

Many often scoff at the "Green Season" (the season formerly known as "Rainy Season") as a bad time to visit the tropics because of the misunderstanding of the term rain. Yes, it rains from time to time, but in typical monsoon fashion these quick showers move through fast and are followed by a wonderful reduction in air temperature & humidity, and also create a great deal of bird activity. Almost like a second morning chorus! This is my 6th or 7th visit to the tropics during green season and in all of this time I've never been rained out for an entire day. Yes, the bird diversity is a bit lower, but the birds that aren't present are the ones I see in my own backyard when they move north to breed or return to the tropics in winter.

However, the flip side of that coin is rates are cheaper, you have less competition for resources including, rooms, vehicles, guides, etc. and most importantly the true tropical birds are very often displaying & breeding unlike a winter visit. So with the "Green Season Advantage" we had as many as 20 male Golden-headed Manakins all vying for the affection of a nearby female. The antics were not unlike things I'd witnessed in a bar full of single men with a single female in it actually. A lot of bravado but it was fun to watch! ;p

White-bearded Manakin, digiscoped @ Asa Wright, Trinidad 7/2009

Another hundred feet down the trail and another sign read, "White-bearded Manakin" and even before you could read it you could hear the manic snapping of wings of the displaying males on this lek! There was beard puffing, and wing snapping, sliding up and down the branches, and mini hopping displays. The non-descript green female bird was hard to spot in the rich foliage but you could always tell where she was by the vigor of the performances. The fellas definitely amped it up when she came close!

harshly backlit Bearded Bellbird, digiscoped @ Asa Wright 7/2009

Even before the next sign appeared we could hear the distinctive "BONK!" of the Asa Wright signature bird, the amazing Bearded Bellbird! Not surprisingly this male sat literally straight above the large wooden sign straight above the steep path. When he was spotted we all behaved in very predictable birder fashion, setting our scopes down and peering straight up at this amazing bird with the hanging fleshy appendages dangling down forming the "beard". These were great and they would wobble to and fro with each "BONK!"

Now you remember how I said it was a steep path right?!?... somewhere between the third and fourth "BONK!" came a sickening, "CLUNK!"... the kind of sound that freezes birders in their tracks, the sound of a heavy and expensive piece of optical equipment hitting terra firma. There were gasps all around as everyone looked at the fallen scope that had tomahawked directly into the muddy path. Yep, I can happily say I've tested the new Leica scope for impact resistance and it passed with flying colors. I'm still using the same model and the only sign of the fall is the presence of some Trini mud still trapped in the filter threads of the objective lens! :)

Common Potoo adult w/ chick, digiscoped Asa Wright 7/09

While there was no sign for this attraction we were all pleasantly surprised by the addition of a Common Potoo doing its best broken stub impression. It was very humorous when a chick poked its head out of the adults breast feathers though, looking like something right out of the movie, "Alien".... peek-a-boo!

Potoos are large nocturnal insect eaters that are related to Nightjars like the widespread Common Nighthawk throughout most of North America (as an example)... but more on this bird later! We ended this all too short but very productive introduction to the Asa Wright trail system and began a leisurely stroll back to the lodge for lunch.

2 headed Night-egret! ;p

In the evening we headed to the Trincity Water Treatment plant.... my idea, I take full credit for this! As I felt this would be a good spot to find some cooperative subjects like herons and egrets, that would sit still and be good fodder to review the digiscoping equipment and techniques. Instead it wound up being yet another test of the equipment. This time I demonstrated how waterproof the Leica equipment was while testing the tolerance of our group. Remember the monsoon showers I spoke about?!?... A little tiny one blew in just as we were at the furthest point from the vehicles. Since it was pretty apparent that we were going to be hit by just a tiny corner of this shower, the crew just braved it. For our efforts we were rewarded by views of familiar birds like the crossed pair above (Black-crowned Night-Heron & Snowy Egret), Purple Gallinules, Least Bittern, and less familiar birds like Yellow-hooded Blackbirds, Yellow-billed & Large-billed Terns, Wattled Jacanas, Southern Lapwing, and the Yellow-chinned Spinetail shown below.

Yellow-chinned Spinetail digiscoped through Leica APO Televid scope with D-Lux 4

After passing the obligatory tour participant tolerance test, the crew was rewarded with treats in the form of fields full of Limpkins & rum punch and some sort of sugar cookies/biscuits as we scanned the rice fields for Long-winged Harriers. Sharp-eyed BT3 picked out the first one, a dark immature, far enough away that even an eagle would squint to see it. Fortunately, another passed moments later much closer than the first. This time it was a more strikingly-marked light adult male bird. A wonderfully fitting way to wrap up day 1!

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